Vicky Uhland

April 24, 2008

7 Min Read
Eyeing the Fountain of Youth

Laugh lines and sagging jowls may be natural, but they're not the American beauty ideal. Many natural skin care manufacturers lament this vanity; one says, only half jokingly, "I wanted to do a line called Face It, where people just accept the aging process. But no one would let me do that."

Aging baby boomers and even 30-something Gen Xers want dewy, youthful skin, and naturals skin care companies are just as quick as their mainstream counterparts to try to accommodate these customers by making facial moisturizers that help reverse, or at least retard, the aging process. Naturals customers are increasingly demanding effective, chemical-free anti-aging facial moisturizers, and retailers who mistakenly believe their customers are more likely than department store shoppers to accept the natural signs of aging may develop a few frown lines of their own when they see skin care sales decrease.

But in the age of Botox, can an anti-aging facial moisturizer made from natural or organic ingredients erase those forehead wrinkles and crow's feet? Can an herbal remedy minimize age spots? Can anything other than plastic surgery combat neck wattles?

Sure, say natural skin care manufacturers. Recent scientific advances provide substances that help the skin naturally retain its elasticity, wrinkle less, avoid discoloration and maintain a smooth texture, they say. Here's a look at some of the ingredients they're using to lure modern-day Ponce de Leons to the naturals retailer's health and beauty aisle.

Antioxidants occur naturally in the body and inhibit the absorption of free radicals. Free radicals attach to cells and injure their membranes. If collagen and elastin cells are damaged, the skin loses elasticity and wrinkles more easily. As people age, the body creates more free radicals, necessitating more antioxidants. Adding antioxidants to skin creams is a relatively new idea, and they're the boost that gives moisturizers their anti-aging properties.

"You can have all the hydration in the world to help make your skin look plumper and smoother, but you need to do something to help repair the skin from within," says Patrick McRae, product developer for San Francisco-based Zia Natural Skin Care.

Vitamins C, E and A are common antioxidants, as are the carotenoids beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein. Antioxidant minerals include selenium, zinc, copper and iron. Enzymes, including coenzyme Q10 and alpha lipoic acid, also work as antioxidants.

Alpha lipoic acid is not only an antioxidant enzyme, "it's a booster that heals or re-energizes other antioxidants to keep them active for a longer period of time and prevent them from breaking down so quickly," McRae says. Alpha lipoic acid is an unusual antioxidant because it's water- and fat-soluble. "You need both, because the inside of the cell is mostly water and the outside cell membrane is fat," says Steve Strassler, president of Reviva Labs in Haddonfield, N.J.

Flavonoids, the compounds that give plants their color, are also antioxidants. The flavonoids in green tea are powerful antioxidants, but Susan Griffin-Black, chief executive of Corte Madera, Calif.-based Essential Oils, says her company has found a tea that's an even more effective antioxidant—rooibos red tea. Originally grown in South Africa, rooibos contains iron, potassium, copper, zinc and calcium, along with natural alpha-hydroxy acids, she says. EO will feature red tea in its EO Skin Care line, scheduled to debut in February.

"Studies conducted at the Institute for Science of Aging in Japan revealed that red tea contains super oxide dismutase, a powerhouse antioxidant that attacks free radicals and limits their damaging effects," Griffin-Black says.

EO Skin Care also will contain gentian, linden, sage and coconut oil antioxidants. Boscia, a Japan-based skin care company, also uses little-known antioxidants, including jojoba leaf and wine yeast.

At Better Botanicals in Herndon, Va., co-founder Shafi Saxena swears by the dandelion antioxidants in the company's Dandelion Moisturizer. "This powerful herb is an antioxidant, detoxifier, estrogen mimic and rich source of essential fatty acids," she says. Dandelion contains vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, cobalt and boron, she says. "The [U.S. Department of Agriculture] ranks dandelion as a top-ranking vegetable in overall nutritional value: nature's richest source of beta carotene and the third richest source of vitamin A of all foods, after cod liver oil and beef liver."

"If you don't have sunscreen, you undermine the work of an anti-aging product," says Zia's McRae. Many daytime anti-aging moisturizers contain sunscreen. Look for the more natural ingredients that fight both UVA and UVB rays, including octyl methoxycinnamate, which is made from cinnamon; and octyl salicylcate, which includes salicylic acid.

Sunscreens can prevent skin discoloration from too much sun exposure. Lycopene and artichoke also strengthen the skin's defense to sun. "Artichoke makes skin more resilient to sun damage, neutralizes free radicals and prevents damage from spreading to neighboring cells," McRae says.

Peony root and licorice help erase sun damage and marks left by acne breakouts, says Summer Lalande, Boscia's marketing and retail coordinator.

Antioxidants and sunscreen help prevent aging, while moisturizers help disguise it. "There's not too much you can do to change your skin once it's damaged, but you can change its appearance—plump up wrinkles, add collagen," says Angela Campbell, an esthetician with Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy in Portland, Ore.

There are two types of facial moisturizers: daytime and nighttime. Reviva's Strassler says daytime moisturizers are designed to stay on the skin's surface to form or reinforce the natural protective film, preventing moisture loss. They also protect against outside pollutants and bacteria and give skin a fresher, dewier appearance. Night creams are formulated to absorb into the skin, providing more nourishment.

Water and oils are natural moisturizers and are frequently the chief ingredients in anti-aging products. For customers with oily or blemish-prone skin, McRae recommends moisturizers with water or gel bases, including aloe vera. Avoid heavy oils such as safflower and sunflower. Vitamin C does double duty as an antioxidant and blemish fighter, Lalande says. Peppermint, lemon, licorice, hops, rosemary, horse chestnut, rose chamomile and lemon sage are oil- or blemish-reducing ingredients that also have moisturizing properties.

The buzz words in natural moisturizing ingredients include sodium PCA, also known as NAPCA, which helps retain water in cells; and hyaluronic acid, which is made from the substance that surrounds plant and animal cells. Hyaluronic acid is a natural hydrator, says Karen Gotto, director of operations for Earth Science skin care. "It works like a lubricant and makes skin feel nice and smooth. It retains a lot of water and keeps it there, hydrating your skin."

Firming Ingredients And Circulation Enhancers
Pharmaca's Campbell notes that skin care follows fads, and today's hot anti-aging trend is outlined in The Perricone Prescription (HarperResource, 2002), written by Nicholas V. Perricone, M.D. The "prescription" involves a combination of the antioxidant alpha lipoic acid and dimethylaminoethanol, or DMAE.

DMAE, which is found in seafood, is a "face-lift in a jar," says Reviva's Strassler. "Research by Johnson & Johnson shows it helps with skin firmness and muscle tone." DMAE strengthens and stabilizes cells' plasma membranes for a more defined skin tone and youthful appearance, he says.

Reviva's anti-aging moisturizers also contain an extract of soy extracellular matrix. "European clinical research shows that soy extracellular matrix has potent cell-stimulating effects that result in skin-firming action and improved elasticity," Strassler says. Soy ECM has isoflavones, glycoproteins, proteoglycans, carbohydrate polymers and mucopolysaccharides. "They are [similar to the nutrients that get lost] from sun damage, natural skin aging or, in women, loss of estrogen," he says.

Estrogen is essential for normal skin thickness, texture and tone. "With decreased estrogen and the resulting loss of normal circulation function, the capillaries do not deliver the proper nutrients, water and oxygen [to the bottom layer of the skin]. So instead of being round, puffy and full of water, the new cells become irregular. This leads to the appearance we associate with aging skin," Strassler says.

Boscia's ingredient entry into the youthful complexion sweepstakes is palmitoyl pentapeptide, found in the company's Restorative Amino-3P Firming Treatment. Lalande calls the peptide "the latest superstar in anti-aging technology. It is a combined amino acid that improves the skin's elasticity and accelerates cell renewal."

Better Botanicals opts for tried-and-true circulation-enhancing oils and herbs to help keep the skin young. "Our skin starts to dry out as we age; our circulation starts to slow, reducing adequate levels of nourishment to our skin cells," Saxena says. Rosemary, thyme and cinnamon help counterbalance that and boost circulation, she says.

Vicky Uhland is a Denver-based writer and editor. She may be reached at [email protected].

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 9/p. 78, 84

About the Author(s)

Vicky Uhland

Vicky Uhland is a writer and editor based in Lafayette, Colorado.

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